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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                        297
away, and at once ^ the roar of the flames of the burning
ruins on the opposite side of the street was heard.
"Well, they gave us a refresher," said Meresyev, with
affected coolness brushing the straw and clay dust from
his clothes.
"But what about the men who were sleeping here?"
anxiously asked Petrov, trying to restrain the nervous
twitching of his jaw and the hiccup that was forcing it-
self to his throat. "And Marina?"
They got down from the stove. Meresyev had a torch.
He searched under the planks and logs that littered the
floor. There was nobody there. Later they learned that
the airmen had heard the alert and had managed to run
to the slit. Petrov and Meresyev searched all the ruins,
but they failed to find Marina or her mother. They called
them, but no answer came. What could have become of
them? Did they survive the raid?
Patrols were already in the street restoring order. Sap-
pers extinguished the fires, dismantled the ruins and
unearthed the dead and injured. Orderlies ran through
the streets calling out the names of airmen. The wing was
quickly transferred to another base. The flying personnel
was mustered in the airfield so as to leave with their ma-
chines at dawn. A preliminary count showed that the
casualties were not heavy. One airman was injured, and
two mechanics and several sentries were killed at their
posts. It was believed that many of the villagers had
perished, but how many it was difficult to say owing to
the darkness and confusion.
Just before dawn, on the way to the airfield, Meresyev
and Petrov could not help stopping at the hoiise they had
slept in. Out of the chaos of logs and planks two sappers
were carrying a stretcher on which lay something covered
with a blood-stained sheet.
"Who is that?" asked Petrov, his face pale and kis
heart heavy with foreboding.
One of the stretcher-bearers, an elderly sapper with
whiskers, who reminded Meresyev of Stepan Ivanovicb,
explained at length:
"An old lady and a girl. We found them in the cellar.
They were hit by falling bricks. Killed outright I doa't
know whether the young one is a girl or a womaa, she's